NASA fuels Endeavour for historic last launch

Apr 29, 2011 By MARCIA DUNN , AP Aerospace Writer
The space shuttle Endeavour is seen on launch pad 39a as a storm passes by prior to the rollback of the Rotating Service Structure (RSS), Thursday, April 28, 2011, at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla. During the 14-day mission, Endeavour and the STS-134 crew will deliver the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS) and spare parts including two S-band communications antennas, a high-pressure gas tank and additional spare parts for Dextre. Launch is targeted for Friday, April 29 at 3:47 p.m. EDT. (AP Photo/NASA, Bill Ingalls)

(AP) -- Just a few hours from liftoff, NASA fueled space shuttle Endeavour for one last ride into orbit Friday as hundreds of thousands of visitors began to converge on the coast for prime viewing spots.

The launch team began loading more than a half-million gallons of fuel into Endeavour at dawn, moments after royal wedding vows were exchanged across the ocean between Prince William and Kate Middleton in London.

Commanding Endeavour on NASA's next-to-last is Navy Capt. Mark Kelly, who is married to Rep. . She was to watch the launch from . Giffords was shot in the head in January and left rehab behind to attend the afternoon liftoff.

President also will attend with his wife and two daughters - the first time in NASA history that a sitting president and his family will have witnessed a launch.

Launch time was 3:47 p.m. Forecasters put the odds of good weather at 70 percent; low clouds and stiff crosswind were the main concern.

Endeavour is bound for the .

For its last hurrah, it's carrying one of the most expensive payloads in NASA's 30-year shuttle history: a $2 billion particle physics detector that will seek out antimatter and dark energy across the universe. Many in and outside NASA say the experiment, if successful, could validate science operations at the decade-old orbiting lab.

Kelly and his all-male crew - all six of them space veterans - saw their families for the last time, face to face, Thursday. They awoke a little before sunrise Friday as launch controllers gathered for the fueling operation.

"Watched 'Patriot' with the crew. Bonding before a big day," pilot Gregory Johnson said in a Twitter update late Thursday.

As the sun rose, recreational vehicles already lined the Banana River to the south, with a wide open view of the launch site.

As many as 750,000 people were expected to crowd nearby coastal communities. For days, police have been warning of massive traffic delays. Schools planned to dismiss early.

The space center itself, meanwhile, was bracing for 45,000 guests, including more than three dozen members of Congress, at least two former NASA administrators, and a score of high-level academic and space industry officials. The California Science Center in Los Angeles - Endeavour's retirement home - also was going to be represented.

NASA is ending the shuttle program this summer, after one last trip by Atlantis. Obama has put the space agency on a path to asteroids and Mars, ultimately, while encouraging private companies to take over Earth-to-orbit operations.

In the meantime, U.S. astronauts will keep using Russian Soyuz rockets to get to the space station.

Once Atlantis flies, it will be at least three years before America launches astronauts from their home soil again.

Explore further: NASA Webb's heart survives deep freeze test

More information: NASA site for Endeavour mission: http://www.nasa.gov/mission-pages/shuttle/shuttlemissions/sts134/index.html

5 /5 (1 vote)
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Astronauts arrive for next-to-last shuttle launch

Apr 26, 2011

(AP) -- The astronaut husband of wounded Rep. Gabrielle Giffords arrived at NASA's launch site Tuesday for this week's flight of space shuttle Endeavour, and said his wife would be following him "pretty soon" ...

Endeavour weathers storm, ready to launch Friday

Apr 29, 2011

(AP) -- Six astronauts have said their goodbyes to their families and are ready to take space shuttle Endeavour on its final flight Friday as hundreds of thousands gather along Florida's Space Coast to cheer ...

Countdown begins for next-to-last shuttle launch

Apr 26, 2011

(AP) -- The astronaut husband of wounded Rep. Gabrielle Giffords arrived at NASA's launch site Tuesday for this week's flight of space shuttle Endeavour, and said his wife would be following him "pretty soon" ...

NASA braces for Giffords, Obama, huge launch crowd

Apr 27, 2011

(AP) -- NASA officials say they're pleased that space shuttle Endeavour's final launch is expected to attract more than a half-million visitors Friday, including President Barack Obama.

Recommended for you

China to send orbiter to moon and back

2 hours ago

China will launch its latest lunar orbiter in the coming days, state media said Wednesday, in its first attempt to send a spacecraft around the moon and back to Earth.

NASA Webb's heart survives deep freeze test

12 hours ago

After 116 days of being subjected to extremely frigid temperatures like that in space, the heart of the James Webb Space Telescope, the Integrated Science Instrument Module (ISIM) and its sensitive instruments, ...

Cosmic rays threaten future deep-space astronaut missions

17 hours ago

Crewed missions to Mars remain an essential goal for NASA, but scientists are only now beginning to understand and characterize the radiation hazards that could make such ventures risky, concludes a new paper ...

MAVEN studies passing comet and its effects

19 hours ago

NASA's newest orbiter at Mars, MAVEN, took precautions to avoid harm from a dust-spewing comet that flew near Mars today and is studying the flyby's effects on the Red Planet's atmosphere.

How to safely enjoy the October 23 partial solar eclipse

19 hours ago

2014 – a year rich in eclipses. The Moon dutifully slid into Earth's shadow in April and October gifting us with two total lunars. Now it's the Sun's turn. This Thursday October 23 skywatchers across much ...

User comments : 0